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Florilegium, Wigmore Hall

During this exploration of music from the Austro-German Baroque, Florilegium were joined by the baritone Roderick Williams in a programme of music which placed the music and career of J.S. Bach in the context of three older contemporaries: Franz Tunder (1614-67), Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1701) and Heinrich Biber (1644-1704). The work of these three composers may be less familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication - under the increasing influence of the Italian style - and emotional range of this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth century.

Leoncavallo: Zazà - Opera Rara

Charismatic charm, vivacious insouciance, fervent passion, dejected self-pity, blazing anger and stoic selflessness: Zazà - a chanteuse raised from the backstreets to the bright lights - is a walking compendium of emotions. Ruggero Leoncavallo’s eponymous opera lives by its heroine. Tackling this exhausting, and perilous, role at the Barbican Hall, The Albanaian soprano Ermonela Jaho gave an absolutely fabulous performance, her range, warmth and total commitment ensuring that the hooker’s heart of gold shone winningly.

L'ospedale - an anonymous opera rediscovered

‘Stay away from doctors; they are bad for your health.’ This seems to be the central message of L’Ospedale - a one-hour opera by an unknown seventeenth-century composer, with a libretto by Antonio Abati which presents a satirical critique of the medical profession of the day and those who had the misfortune to need curative treatment for their physical and mental ills.

Šimon Voseček : Biedermann and the Arsonists

‘In these times of heightened security … we are listening, watching …’

René Pape, Joseph Calleja, Kristine Opolais, Boito Mefistofele, Munich

Arrigo Boito Mefistofele was broadcast livestream from the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich last night. What a spectacle !

Calixto Bieito’s The Force of Destiny

The monochrome palette of Picasso’s Guernica and the mural’s anti-war images of suffering dominate Calixto Bieito’s new production of Verdi’s The Force of Destiny for English National Opera.

Morgen und Abend — World Premiere, Royal Opera House

The world premiere of Morgen und Abend by Georg Friedrich Haas at the Royal Opera House, London — so conceptually unique and so unusual that its originality will confound many.

Company XIV Combines Classic and Chic in an Exquisite Cinderella

Company XIV’s production of Cinderella is New York City theater at its finest. With a nod to the court of Louis the XIV and the grandiosity of Lully’s opera theater, Company XIV manages to preserve elements of the French Baroque while remaining totally innovative, and never—in fact, not once for the entire two and a half hour show—falls prey to the predictable. Not one detail is left to chance in this finely manicured yet earthily raw production of Cinderella.

Monteverdi by The Sixteen at Wigmore Hall

This was a concert where immense satisfaction was derived equally from the quality of musicianship displayed and the coherence and resourcefulness of the programme presented. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine for soloists, chorus, and orchestra.

Dialogues des Carmélites Revival at Dutch National Opera

If not timeless, Robert Carsen’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites is highly age-resistant.

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari: Le donne curiose

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari was one of the Italian composers of the post-Puccini generation (which included Licinio Refice, Riccardo Zandonai, Umberto Giordano and Franco Leoni) who struggled to prolong the verismo tradition in the early years of the twentieth century.

Moby-Dick Surfaces in the City of Angels

On Saturday evening October 31, 2015, the Nantucket whaling ship Pequod journeyed to Los Angeles Opera and began its sixth voyage in the attempt to kill the elusive whale called Moby-Dick.

Great Scott at the Dallas Opera

Great Scott is a combination of a parody of bel canto opera and an operatic version of All About Eve. Beloved American diva Arden Scott (Joyce DiDonato), has discovered the score to a long-lost opera “Rosa Dolorosa, Figlia di Pompeii” and has become committed to getting the work revived as a vehicle for her. “Rosa Dolorosa” has grand musical moments and a hilariously absurd plot.

Schubert and Debussy at Wigmore Hall

The most recent instalment of the Wigmore Hall’s ambitious series, ‘Schubert: The Complete Songs’, was presented by soprano Lucy Crowe, pianist Malcolm Martineau and harpist Lucy Wakeford.

A Bright and Accomplished Cenerentola at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Gioachino Rossini’s La Cenerentola has returned to Lyric Opera of Chicago in a production new to this venue and one notable for several significant debuts along with roles taken by accomplished, familiar performers.

La Bohème, ENO

Back in 2000, Glyndebourne Touring Opera dragged Puccini’s sentimental tale of suffering bohemian artists into the ‘modern urban age’, when director David McVicar ditched the Parisian garrets and nineteenth-century frock coats in favour of a squalid bedsit in which Rodolfo and painter Marcello shared a line of cocaine under the grim glare of naked light bulbs and the clientele at Café Momus included a couple of gaudily attired transvestites.

Luigi Rossi: Orpheus

Just as Orpheus embarks on a quest for his beloved Eurydice, so the Royal Opera House seems to be in pursuit of the mythical music-maker himself: this year the house has presented Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Camden Roundhouse (with the Early Opera Company in January), Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice on the main stage (September), and, in the Linbury Studio Theatre, both Birtwistle’s The Corridor (June) and the Paris-music-hall style Little Lightbulb Theatre/Battersea Arts Centre co-production, Orpheus (September).

64th Wexford Festival Opera

Wexford Festival Opera has served up another thought-provoking and musically rewarding trio of opera rarities — neglected, forgotten or seldom performed — in 2015.

Christoph Prégardien, Schubert, Wigmore Hall London

Another highlight of the Wigmore Hall complete Schubert Song series - Christoph Prégardien and Christoph Schnackertz. The core Wigmore Hall Lieder audience were out in force. These days, though, there are young people among the regulars : a sign that appreciation of Lieder excellence is most certainly alive and well at the Wigmore Hall. .

The Magic Flute in San Francisco

How did it go? Reactions of my neighbors varied. Some left at the intermission, others remarked that they thought the singing was good.



Cast of Show Boat, Lyric Opera of Chicago [Photo by Robert Kusel courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago]
19 Apr 2012

Show Boat at Lyric Opera of Chicago

Lyric Opera of Chicago has begun with the current season’s production of Show Boat a series of musicals of the American theater to be featured in coming years.

Jerome Kern: Show Boat

Click here for cast and production information.

Above: Cast of Show Boat, Lyric Opera of Chicago

Photos by Robert Kusel courtesy of Lyric Opera of Chicago


Francesca Zambello applied her directorial talents to the current production and allows Show Boat to speak for itself as a straightforward and entertaining piece of theatrical tradition. Featured cast members include Ashley Brown as Magnolia Hawks, Nathan Gunn as Gaylord Ravenal, Alyson Cambridge as Julie, Angela Renée Simpson as Queenie, Morris Robinson as Joe, Ross Lehmann as Captain Hawks, Cindy Gold as Parthy Ann Hawks, and Ericka Mac as Ellie May Chipley. John DeMain conducted the Lyric Opera Orchestra.

After the overture settled from a brassy start into familiar melodic lines, DeMain highlighted rhythmic shifts to good effect. The “Cotton Blossom” song, named for the riverboat with its staged entertainment, was performed with choral energy yet individual phrases could profit from greater emphasis on diction. The argument between the engineer Pete and the actor Steve, which motivates so much of the subsequent conflict, is convincingly staged. Others members of the ship’s community react immediately to Steve’s dismissal and to the isolation of his wife Julie LaVerne. In the role of the undertalented Ellie May, Ms. Mac sings intentionally off-key and overcompensates charmingly in her attempts to portray an ambitious yet ill-trained replacement for Julie in the ship’s roster of actors.

The arrival of Gaylord Ravenal introduces the second dramatic and emotional twist that will have an effect on the remainder of the piece. It is a role that suits Mr. Gunn’s voice and dramatic talents well. In his first song, “Who cares if my Boat Goes Upstream?” Gunn’s sense of line adds to the carefree swagger of Ravenal’s personality. Here and elsewhere the orchestra could serve the soloist better if taken less forte in its enthusiastic accompaniment. The pivotal duet with Magnolia, “Make Believe,” was performed touchingly by Ms. Brown and Mr. Gunn, as the impression of a naïve yet convincing affection was kindled. When left to consider her thoughts, Magnolia asks Joe the husband of Queenie whether this attraction could be a signal of love. As sung by Mr. Robinson, the response of Joe, “Ol’ Man River,” is one of the highlights of the production. Robinson portrays Joe with dramatic physicality and with fully assured vocal technique. His sonorous bass is rich and full in even the lowest pitches, and his legato matches the rolling pull of the river. When Robinson repeats the song subsequently with male chorus, the effect is equally striking. Magnolia’s second confidante Julie hears next of the budding romance. After the trusting exchange with Magnolia, Ms. Cambridge sang the well-known comment on love, “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” Cambridge showed here a firm sense of musical line as it supported the text yet the enunciation of lyrics was overly careful. After Ravenal’s gambling song, performed with spirited determination by Gunn, the remainder of Act I alternates between staffing the showboat’s entertainment and the developing romance of the protagonists.


Because of Mississippi racial laws the marriage of Julie and Pete is questioned, a complication leading to her dismissal as lead in the musical show. Captain Hawks decides that his daughter Magnolia will substitute since she is familiar with the numbers from having attended rehearsals. Almost simultaneously Ellie May performs with female chorus the comment, “Life on the Wicked Stage.” Ms. Mac assured that the number was an exhilarating showstopper with all pitches at this point sung correctly. The love between Magnolia and Ravenal blooms, just as they rehearse the fictional parts of lovers on the stage. Brown and Gunn gave a convincing rendition of “You are Love” as they make plans for their own wedding in keeping with the stage-show’s narrative. As Act I ends, stories about Ravenal’s past do not deter Captain Hawks from supporting the marriage yet his wife Parthy’s reaction hints at domestic difficulties in Act II.

In the second act as arranged for this production the chronological sequence unfolded smoothly. The individual scenes cover a span of several decades in the domestic and emotional lives of Magnolia and Ravenal. Only the first scene taking place at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago gave any indication of the idyllic marriage promised by the lyrical exchange in the first act. The birth of a daughter hardly deters Ravenal from his continued gambling. Indeed one of the most emotionally moving scenes in Act II is Gunn’s departure from his daughter staged in the convent school. The reprise of “Make Believe” in this scene recalls earlier happiness and looks wistfully toward a future reconciliation. For her part Ms. Brown’s portrayal of Magnolia as an independent performer after having been left by Ravenal was achieved with both vocal and dramatic skill. Her voice matured noticeably as she sang “After the Ball,” and sheer confidence could only describe her solo appearance in a Ziegfield show in New York. Since Queenie had attended these latter performances, she repeats one of Nola’s popular numbers back on the show boat. Ms. Simpson sings “Hey Feller!” with gusto and decided glee in her committed enthusiasm. The final reunion of Magnolia, Ravenal, and their daughter takes place, appropriately, where the romance began with the hope of a transformed future.

Salvatore Calomino


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